Examine your financial goals
Three principles to approach your financial goals without shame or guilt
Welcome to week three of the EASY Money Challenge, where we’re exploring a new framework to understand your relationship with money.
Today, we’re tackling the “S” of EASY: Save. Let’s examine your financial goals.
Tune in above or through your favorite podcast app, or check out the transcript below.
At the end of each episode in the EASY Money Challenge, I’ll share an exercise to help you fill out your Money Map — an inventory that lets you see where your money comes from, where it’s going and how you want to use it.
These exercises will help you gain understanding and peace in your finances without clinging to the budgeting habits so many people are doubling down on this time of year.
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Here are three key principles to help you get to know your financial goals, and ask why before saving, investing or dealing with debt.
No. 1: There are no financial emergencies
A store of money is key to easing your financial stress. Having money that’s not earmarked for anything and is always there when you need it lets you live life without money weighing in.
I call this store of money your comfort fund — and I deliberately use that label instead of the popular term “emergency fund” to help you make an important shift in your relationship with money.
Building an emergency fund implies that a change in your financial circumstances constitutes an emergency. I don’t believe that narrative.
The most that money fluctuations can do is make you uncomfortable — they cannot break you.
Through the EASY approach, we see that money is one of many realities in your life. It’s not the defining force. Calling your back-up savings a comfort fund is an ongoing reminder of that fact, and a small step that can shift your relationship with money a notch to reduce some of your stress.
We also call this a comfort fund because you can use it for anything that contributes to more comfort in your experience.
I see too many people suffer through untenable situations while sitting on a well-endowed “emergency fund,” because they don’t consider their situation a financial emergency.
A comfort fund is there if you want to use money to:
Leave a toxic relationship.
Look for a new job.
Transition to self-employment.
Weather a layoff.
File for divorce.
Avoid restriction and deprivation.
Its purpose is to let you make decisions without money weighing in. That could mean taking a big leap in life, leaving an unsafe situation or surviving a financial surprise without sacrificing your day-to-day experience.
No. 2: Investing isn’t inevitable
Many financial experts overcomplicate investing for the everyday saver. And because of media coverage, so many of us feel anxiety about markets that aren’t built for us and don’t typically affect our everyday lives.
The EASY approach cuts out all this noise.
I want you to know just three things about investing:
Choosing not to invest is OK.
You can invest without the stock market.
Almost no one should be actively trading stocks.
Let’s break those down briefly.
Choosing not to invest is okay.
If it feels right for you, opt out of the idea of investing altogether. So much financial advice makes you feel foolish if you avoid investing because it’s supposed to be “free money.”
But investing in our economy is a system that rests on the worst characteristics of capitalism and perpetuates wealth inequality — the wealthiest 10% of households own 89% of the wealth in the stock market, and the profit motive of publicly traded companies is inevitably anti-worker.
If you have the fortitude to question that system and look for alternatives, you’re taking a vital step, not a foolish one.
You can invest without the stock market.
There are alternative ways to build wealth if wealth building is a goal for you. Traditional investment vehicles aren’t your only option.
People build wealth through options like:
Peer-to-peer lending platforms.
Investing in local businesses or through startup marketplaces.
Building your own sellable business.
Purchasing and managing rental properties.
Selling your home.
Think through your values and goals, and look for ways to use and grow your money that align with those.
Almost no one should be actively trading stocks.
A growing area of personal finance media and tech is all about what it calls “democratizing” investing — or making stock trading easy for anyone to access.
This is not good for the everyday investor. I don’t know exactly who you are, but I can make a good guess that you won’t benefit from actively choosing stocks to invest in.
When I say “actively choosing,” I mean picking stocks, like you do through some investment apps — say, putting $1 into Apple.
If you’re going to save and grow your money through funds invested in the stock market — including in a retirement account — your money should be going into index funds or exchange-traded funds. These track the performance of stock indexes overall, so your wealth isn’t dependent on your ability to determine whether a company like Apple will earn or lose money over the next 50 years.
Study after study has shown that even professional traders typically can’t earn more money with stock picks than an investor can earn in an index fund. It’s really hard to know what individual stocks will do, so that method doesn’t usually pan out.
(Standard disclaimer that this isn’t individualized financial advice, because I don’t know your situation. This is just information to help you understand what’s going on out there.)
There’s a lot more to say about investing, and I’ll be sure to dive deeper into this topic in another episode. But for now, just know that it does not have to be as intimidating or complicated as many experts would make it seem.
No. 3: Debt is morally neutral
Before you name any financial goals, start by making peace with your debt. All of it. No matter how you accumulated it.
People love to demonize debt and the purchases you spend it on, but this aspect of your money is morally neutral just like any other.
If you feel shame around your debt, that’s not because you’ve done something wrong. That’s the voice of internalized budget culture telling you it knows better than you what you should do (or should have done) with your money, and that can never be true.
Debt payoff doesn’t have to be your highest priority. Strip it of the shame and blame piled on by budget culture, and deciding how to deal with it is just a matter of costs, benefits and priorities.
Whatever you choose to do next with your money is the right choice.
If you tap into debt to expand your resources and create the experience you need, fine. If you take your time repaying it or decide not to repay it all, fine.
The key to making choices about how to use debt and how to deal with it is understanding the consequences of any kind of debt you take out.
Last week, you filled out the commitments portion of the Money Map and listed debt payments you’ve committed to, as well as the consequences of not paying them.
Revisit that episode, Get money off your mind, to get clear on what it means to carry your debt. Then, before you make changes to your finances to accommodate debt payoff goals, ask yourself why paying off debt matters to you.
Starting with this base can help you decide how to deal with debt in the way that makes the most sense in your life — instead of reacting to the shame our culture layers onto carrying any kind of debt.
Fill out your Money Map
Now, it’s time to take action. Pull out your Money Map, and let’s list your financial goals.
If you haven’t already, download your Money Map here.
This week, we’re going to list your Goals, so find the third section of your Money Map.
Start by noting the targets you want to reach (if you have them). You can list a goal for your comfort fund, investment accounts and big spending, and list your outstanding debt balances.
On the next page, figure out the monthly contributions you want to make toward these goals.
You don’t have to make a contribution to every goal every month, and you don’t necessarily have to be working toward a target. Just use this space to get an idea of the time and commitment it would take to get to where you want to be with your money.
Start with some rough numbers here to start examining your goals. Next week, we’ll put it all together and look at your Yes Fund, and that’ll give you an idea of the kinds of adjustments you might want to make with your resources, commitments and goals to experience life the way you want to.
I’d love to learn what you uncover about your goals through this exercise.
Have you been prioritizing financial goals you don’t actually care about?
Have you been neglecting others that are more meaningful to you?
Do all of your goals feel achievable, or do you feel like you’ll never be in the financial place you want to be in?
Hop into the comments of this post to share any responses you’re comfortable sharing with the community, or send me an email privately to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for following along with this challenge, and I’ll talk to you next week!
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